By Elliot Williams
VATICAN CITY — As Pope Francis released his annual message for World Youth Day last week, I couldn’t help but recall my own experience as a pilgrim four years ago. The trip was surreal. I had barely traveled anywhere in the United States on my own, and certainly had never been abroad. Yet, I refused to be held back by the fear of the unknown, so in the summer of 2011, I went along with Auxiliary Bishop Michael J. Fitzgerald of my local Philadelphia Archdiocese to Madrid for World Youth Day. As a leader in an archdiocesan youth group, I was blessed enough to be chosen as one of five students to embark on the pilgrimage.
Villanova student and CNS intern, Elliot Williams, in front of the Sanctuary of Loyola in Azpeitia, Spain, in 2011, during World Youth Day celebrations. (CNS photo/Elliot Williams).
I kept a journal, took pictures, and reveled in the bliss of Europe as we traveled through Lourdes, France; Lisbon, Portugal and Burgos, Spain, visiting sites where the Blessed Mother appeared to those suffering from poverty and war. Throughout the 10-day excursion, we spent many hours listening to motivational speakers who spread messages of love, self-control, and the value of young lives — much like the message Pope Francis shared with the youth in preparation for WYD 2016, to be held in Krakow, Poland next summer.
Our trip culminated with a message from Pope Benedict XVI, which focused primarily on building faith. Four years later, the message from Pope Francis suggests a resemblance to the former, but centers mostly on the Beatitudes, and seeking happiness through the Lord. For those attending WYD in Krakow, this spiritual journey will be life changing, unprecedented for most young people, especially for those who have never seen the Holy Father speak in public before.
An aide holds an umbrella for Pope Benedict XVI as rain and wind moves through the Cuatro Vientos airfield in Madrid during the World Youth Day vigil Aug. 20. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)
I will never forget camping out on a massive lawn of soil with a sea of fellow pilgrims, and watching as the sky turned from a promising blue, to a menacing red, threatening to end the entire event. Pope Benedict XVI spoke for as long as he could before the wind and the rain made it nearly impossible (Read More)